Tonight’s opponent is another Atlantic Division contender. The other one in the Sunshine State. That one.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (0-0-1) at the Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0-0, SBN Blog: Raw Charge)
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils went to Florida to begin their 2016-17 campaign. After the first few minutes, the Panthers preyed upon New Jersey’s poor puck movement into and within the neutral zone to generate plenty of dangerous offense. They stuck home with a fluke, though. Jonathan Marchessault fired a shot that Cory Schneider saved - only for the rebound to hit off Ben Lovejoy and go right into the net. The Devils would equalize late in the first period when Yohann Auvitu ripped a slapshot from the right point. P.A. Parenteau, setting a screen, got a piece of the shot that would beat Roberto Luongo. The second period was much more in New Jersey’s favor but they could not beat Luongo. The third period featured Florida forcing the game to be played mostly in New Jersey’s end. Fortunately, Schneider was more than up to the task. The Devils held on to go to overtime. Taylor Hall set up Adam Henrique for a glorious chance early in OT only for Henrique to sail the shot high and wide. That was New Jersey’s real opportunity in the fourth period. Florida would take over and would eventually win. Michael Matheson won a puck from Damon Severson, put him on his wallet, and then slid a pass from around the net to a wide open Aleksander Barkov. Barkov wasn’t going to miss and he didn’t. The Devils lost 1-2 in OT. My recap of the loss is here.
The Last Lightning Game: The Lightning hosted Detroit for their season opener on Thursday night. The scoresheet for this one was filled with events. It looked like Detroit would be in control early on thanks to two goals by Thomas Vanek in the first period. However, Tampa Bay got on the board in the second thanks to Jonathan Drouin. Frans Nielsen would respond to restore the two-goal lead a little after Drouin’s goal. But at the 13:05 mark, Cedric Paquette would cut the lead back to one. A melee ensured about a minute later that bolstered the penalty listings for both teams. But the real damage is always on the scoreboard and Tampa Bay inflicted plenty on Detroit in the third period. Brian Boyle would score early in the third to tie it up. Tyler Johnson would convert a power play goal to take the lead for the Lightning. Alex Killorn would convert another power play late in the third to make it 5-3. That insurance goal came into play as a little later after that, Danny DeKeyser would make it 5-4 with over two minutes left. Fortunately for the home team, Valtteri Filppula would ice the game with an empty netter less than a minute after DeKeyer’s goal. Tampa Bay won their first of the season, 6-4. David Baldwin has this recap of the win at Raw Charge.
The Goal: Protect the puck in transition. One of the reasons why Florida spent large stretches of Thursday’s game just taking the game to the Devils was because of the Devils’ issues in their transition game. The first period featured plenty of attempted passes going laterally into or within the neutral zone. Those often ended with pucks bouncing off sticks and Panthers skaters in a position to make a play to hit the Devils back with a quick counter. In the third period, the Devils just had issues making zone exits where the pucks would even be on their sticks - especially for the first six minutes or so. Being "harder" on the puck was something head coach John Hynes emphasized in Friday’s practice according to this post by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice. He’s not wrong. But the Devils’ most successful period against the Panthers was the second period and that was when the team mixed up their breakouts. There were some carry outs. There were some shorter passes being made. The passes themselves weren’t very hard such that the receiver was going to have trouble with it. I don’t think that was a coincidence. To that end, if the Devils are able to keep the puck in their control while moving forward, then they’ll have a better chance of keeping up with an offensively-charged Lightning squad tonight.
Already: Tampa Bay put up 36 shots on net and scored six on Detroit: three at even strength (including an ENG) and three out of six power play opportunities. The scorers were, in order, Drouin, Paquette, Boyle, Johnson, Killorn, and Filppula. Three of them are players the Devils are going to see a lot of tonight. Johnson, Killorn, and Drouin are quick, skilled, and productive. The other three are used more in depth roles. Boyle has made a career out of being a solid bottom-six center; Paquette figures to be solid depth; and Filppula’s past suggests he can do more than just chip in a little. We’re one game in and they all have opened their respective goal accounts.
You know what names haven’t yet but surely will soon? Steve Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Anton Stralman. This isn’t to say they were bad or didn’t do anything on Thursday. Stamkos, Palat, and Hedman all had assists. More relevant to tonight, the three forwards all play significant minutes across Tampa Bay’s top two lines and Hedman-Stralman is their top defensive pairing. All of those players have too much talent and have already proven their worth in the NHL. They will be productive and they will give their opponents headaches. If Florida’s top line can give the Devils fits - and they really did - then Tampa Bay could do it with either of their top two lines. Based on the lines at Left Wing Lock from their Friday practice, the Devils will get to "enjoy" the match ups from Palat-Stamkos-Drouin and Johnson-Killorn-Kucherov. Both lines will prey upon misfired passes and ineffective zone exits. And with Hedman-Stralman supporting one of them, that just makes it even harder. Both defensemen are adept at the points, they’re smart on the puck, they both can shoot and distribute the puck well, and they’re very good in their own end. And with the second pairing featuring Jason Garrison and his hard shot, that just adds another dimension to an already tantalizing group of forwards. I don’t think there will be much shielding of the John Moore and Ben Lovejoy pairing; there certainly won’t be any for Andy Greene and Damon Severson tonight.
Not to mention there’s an X-factor of their third line. Vladimir Namestnikov, Filppula, and another talented young forward, Brayden Point isn’t just a bunch of dudes put together on a unit. Namestnikov and Point could both develop to be those additional scoring forwards that can really wreck havoc with weaker matchups. That’s something that they may get since teams will understandably focus on the lines led by Stamkos and Killorn. They could do so tonight. And if not them, then hey, Boyle and Paquette already have a goal each. They can keep doing their thing against the Devils to success.
My point is that we’re one game in and already the Tampa Bay Lightning have performed like an offensive powerhouse. No, they won’t go 3-for-6 on power plays every night or put up a touchdown of goals. They will be able to storm pretty much any team’s defense. Expect them to do it against New Jersey.
Or to Put it Another Way: Thank goodness for Cory Schneider. Gross confirmed he’ll start this game.
Apparently No Changes for NJ?: Gross’ report from practice at Fire & Ice on Friday noted a change to one of the power play units. Parenteau took Jacob Josefson’s spot on the side boards on their first power play unit. The Devils’ power play was ineffective on Thursday. However, I don’t know how much of that could really attributable to that spot on the unit. Their entries were OK on their first opportunity and dreadful on their second one. Maybe Parenteau will help with that? We’ll see.
More surprising to me was Gross’ reporting that the forward lines and defensemen pairings have remained the same. I did not think Adam Henrique played well on Thursday and Devante Smith-Pelly was invisible at right wing with Henrique and Taylor Hall (who can’t do it all himself, Devils). I want Henrique to play better; I don’t know if DSP really fits on that line. But John Hynes looks to go with them again for another game. While Miles Wood and Blake Speers weren’t particularly bad on Thursday, they weren’t particularly good in a fourth line role. I’d like to see Reid Boucher and Beau Bennett get in for both of them and see what they can do. That does not appear to be in the cards. As for the defense, Steven Santini appears to be the odd man out again. I don’t think Kyle Quincey was all that bad. Slow, but not bad. I guess if Santini would get into a game at this point, it’d be for him, barring injury to anyone else. But because Quincey wasn’t bad with Auvitu, I see why the coaches wouldn’t switch him out.
It’s just odd to me. The Devils may have lost in overtime but their performance wasn’t all that good, especially for stretches of the first and third periods. With extra skaters on the roster, I would have thought a few of them would be expected to play tonight. Partially to get them going for the season and partially in response to the loss. They still could, to be fair to the coaches. As it stands, it appears that Hynes and his staff want to see whether they can perform better than they did on Thursday. That’s going to be a real challenge against a very talented team that has plenty of skilled forwards, a great top defensive pairing, and, oh yeah, Ben Bishop backstopping them. Then agai, it’s going to be a tough one for NJ regardless of their lineup changes or lack thereof.
One Last Thought: The Devils took a lot of penalties on Thursday. Fortunately (?), they were often matched by a Panther in kind and so they had to deal with only three shorthanded situations. The Devils will have to take better care of their sticks and bodies with respect to physical play. The Lightning may not be taking fouls at the same time and the referees may not be so willing to match up calls compared to Thursday’s game. The Lightning already have a dazzling array of offensive players. Handing them many power plays - which aided in their comeback win over Detroit - would be a bad idea.
Your Take: The Devils will go to the Amalie Arena and Devin will take care of the game recap here. What do you think of this matchup ahead of tonight’s game? Who worries you the most on Tampa Bay? Can the Devils sharpen their puck possession enough such that the Lightning just doesn’t rain shots on Schneider all night long? Who on the Devils would you like to see have a good game tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments. Thank you for reading.